Although 49 states have passed laws addressing the portability of professional certifications and licenses, the devil is in the details for military spouses who make frequent moves from state to state.
Some states have enacted legislative language that's quite strong, but in some, it's weak, said Eddy Mentzer, the Defense Department's program manager for spouse education and career opportunities, who took part in a panel discussion on credentialing for military spouses April 28 at the American Legion's National Credentialing Summit in Washington, D.C.
Varying laws related to getting licenses and certifications needed for employment by each state is a significant issue for many spouses as they try to navigate the requirements in order to get a job at their sponsor's next duty station. Spouses are found in virtually all career fields, and many are affected by license and certification requirements each time they make a military move.
Mentzer spoke of one military spouse, a hairdresser, who moved to Virginia with her Navy corpsman husband and described the licensing difficulties she endured as "unbelievable."
She had licenses from five states where she and her husband had previously lived. But when she took those licenses into the Virginia state office and asked for an expedited review, she was told she had to have notarized copies of each of those licenses. It took her more than four months to obtain those documents, largely because she was no longer physically located in the states that had issued them.
"Who's your advocate when you're that one spouse trying to get a governing body to expedite?" Mentzer said. "Many spouses don't have the resources."
Panelists discussed the case of a teacher who faced so much difficulty transferring her credentials in a new state that she hired an attorney.
Teachers often have particular difficulty because of varying licensure requirements, two panelists said.
Tamara Hiler, policy advisor for education for The Third Way, said her organization supports creating a structure for a common application for teacher licensure that states could opt into. States would set a minimum bar for the licensing standards, allowing them to raise the bar on teaching requirements.
That also would allow states to recruit teachers from whatever states are participating in the common application. "It would give teachers the opportunity to more freely and easily move their licensure across state lines," she said.
Among the 50 states, there are more than 600 different licensure tests teachers may be expected to take, Hiler said.
States are the only entity in the U.S. that have the responsibility and authority to license teachers, noted Emily Feistritzer, president of Teach-NOW, an online teacher preparation program for college graduates.
But although no overall agreement among all states exists, "in reality, reciprocity is growing," with states increasingly accepting candidates with teaching certificates from other states, said Feistritzer, who has worked on these issues for decades.
Teach-NOW results in regular, full-time teaching licenses that are recognized in many states and a number of other countries, and works with candidates to get their teaching license recognized where they want to teach.
Feistritzer said the nine-month program is ideal for military spouses and those transitioning out of the military. The regular cost is $6,000, but for the military, including spouses, it's $5,000.